Tuesday, June 9, 2015

2 Years of Collecting in 4 Days:
A Collector's First-time Celebration Experiences - Part I

Pete writes:

Whether you’ve gone to one Star Wars Celebration or all 10, you probably have some key memories from the four day experience. Thus when I attended Celebration (VII) Anaheim, I made a point of documenting those experiences from my perspective as a first-time attendee. Needless to say, there was a lot to write about. I had heard about the events time and time again over the years as a member on Rebelscum and as a friend of several collectors who attend it religiously. By the end of each of the previous events it was hard not to kick yourself for not attending. This year over 50,000 fans attended the event -- one of the largest since its inception. Now I’ve been to many conventions big and small, but this one had an aura to it unlike any that I had attended before. There was palpable the amount of energy in the halls, the hotels, and even in the line queues waiting to get in.

This article is about my experiences, the emotions, and the event as a whole written chronologically as they happened through my eyes. To be forthright, I attended the event as a collector. My main goals were to find things for my collection and meet people face to face that I had known for years. Thus a great deal of this post is about my time on the floor searching, preparing, and ultimately finding items for my collection. At its core however it’s about people -- many that I met for the first time.    

So what is a Star Wars Celebration? I mean really, what is it? When my co-workers asked me when I told them I was going to a Star Wars event, “like Comic con, but unlike Comic Con it’s all Star Wars, and its nothing like a freaking Star Trek convention.” After some punches were thrown over whether I would go as Leia with the buns in her hair or the metal bikini, everyone started to become intrigued. And why not? Star Wars is a cultural phenomenon and every one of them had seen the movies multiple times. I think Dave Chapelle portraying Rick James said it best: “It’s a celebration, bitches” -- and that’s truly what it is. It’s about all things Star Wars; it’s about collecting, costumes, gaming, adventures, and most of all having a good time.    

1:30 PM Wednesday April 15th, Palm Beach Airport, Florida.
Arrived for the first leg of my flight, checked my bag that will be used to bring back bounty from Anaheim, PC fully charged to work on the final draft of my presentation for the Collector’s Lounge.

3:00 PM Wednesday April 15th, ATL Airport, Georgia.
Qdoba Nachos – Delicious!  Already ran into several people wearing SW garb, and even one guy already sporting his pass and lanyard for the event -- that might be a little premature, but oh well to each their own.

6:50 PM Wednesday April 15th, John Wayne Airport, Anaheim, California.
Arrived in Anaheim on a plane loaded with other Star Wars fans eager to get into their hotels and out of this airport. The number of Star Wars fans outnumbered the non Star Wars fans by a large margin... this is going to be interesting.

I took the Super Shuttle loaded down with 8 other fans headed for the Hotel area in Anaheim. As we neared the hotel area you could already feel a buzz in the air. People were walking down the streets of Anaheim carrying lightsabers in hand. It was a cool site to see.

8:01 PM Wednesday April 15th, Hilton Anaheim.
Arrived and checked in at the Hilton. We passed a Carl’s Jr. about a mile back, time to start walking.    Room not so great, but atmosphere is already bumping... fans everywhere, dominating the bar, walking around in full SW garb, there’s an energy in the hotel and area overall in the area, it was palpable.

Mmm Carl’s Jr. is freaking delicious!  

After some dinner I headed to the bar for a drink, ran into a few people said hi, and then walked over to see the line queue for the J.J. Abrams panel in the morning. Holy Hannah there’s already 6,000 people in line!   Well, I was thinking about camping out in line, but I don’t think that’s the best idea. Got a lay of the land, where are the entrances to the convention center? Where are the restrooms? Logistically, how am I going to move through the show floor?

11:10 PM Wednesday April 15th
End of day 1, time for a short rest before my Thursday starts.

4:30 AM Thursday April 16th Anaheim Convention Center Line Queue.
Time to get up and get in line! So after giving up on the idea of getting in to see J.J. Abrams / Kathleen Kennedy at the panel the morning of the 16th, I decided I should secure my spot in line for one of the simulcasts that would be taking place in other parts of the venue. Luckily I felt pretty confident about getting into one of those as there were only around 12,000 people in line when I arrived.   Walking through the basement of the Anaheim Convention center we were rounded up like cattle into separate aisles with remnants from all the people that were there overnight left behind. Blankets, pillows, Mountain Dew bottles, empty pizza boxes and so much more. Standing on the concrete floor waiting for another 5 and half hours was going to be tough. Luckily I had my iPhone, some ear buds, and some genuinely fun people around me in line that were even nice enough to hold my spot when I had to use the facilities around 8:00 AM. This literally was like nothing else I had ever seen. I have been to Comic Cons before and they are nuts, I had been to CES which dwarfs this event and even SDCC in size of participants, but never had to be stuck in a line for this long in my life.

6:00 AM Thursday April 16th
Volunteers come by to hand out wristbands to segregate who’s going into what room when the event starts.  Mine is orange, which I assume is one of the simulcast rooms -- that or the line that gets lead out to the line outside for the 11:00 opening of the show floor.

8:30 AM Thursday April 16th
As I sat in line I started thinking about leaving a few times, given that I realized I was in line to watch a TV. I mustered up the strength to keep going with what seemed to be an act of futility. Around that time as would happen from time to time (mainly due to someone knocking over one of the metal guard rails) the crowd started to roar up. A slender man with grey hair started to walk down the walkways between the multiple lines.. hey, it’s Anthony Daniels. Always the gentleman, he walked down the aisle to shake hands and take pictures with the loyal legions of SW fanboys and fangirls -- a nice way to lift spirits after some people had been there for more than 14 hours.   

9:35 AM Thursday April 16th
Finally the line starts to move! As we started to crunch in I saw thousands of people get corralled through a few doors and up two escalators down a hallway and into several rooms. My line is one of the first to leave around 9:45 as we’re pushed from one end of the building to the other and into the arena. As I entered the room it was electric -- lightsabers of every color of the spectrum are waiving in the air, a huge stage is set up with someone keeping the crowd entertained. 

10:00 AM Thursday April 16th Anaheim Convention Center Arena.
As I sit down and get ready for what I believe I’m about to watch on a huge screen in front of me, the lights dim and J.J. and Kathleen are introduced on the stage in front of me. Not only am I shocked that I got in but so were a few thousand other people in the arena. A deafening roar comes over the crowd, J.J. walks out and takes a video on his cell phone of the craziness that’s in front of him. The crowd settles down and opens their ears for what the purveyor of Lucasfilm and director of the first sequel to the Star Wars Trilogy has to say.

After a brief introduction and discussion on Episode VII, they start to introduce other guests. Two droid makers that were brought in for Episode VII come out to roll out the new R2-D2. A few minutes later the newest droid addition to the trilogy, BB-8, roles out and steals the show. No one (including myself) could believe that it was a true character and not an act of CG. It rolled around the stage with the head tilting from side to side and was as real as any actor or prop from the Original Trilogy.
Moments later Oscaar Issaac, John Boyega, and Daisy Ridley are introduced. The team talks a little about their characters (very little in fact). In true Star Wars and J.J. Abrams fashion, most information is being kept secret to ensure that the plot isn’t spoiled.

Within a few minutes the group is joined by Stormtroopers in their new costumes, immediately followed by Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, and Peter Mayhew entering the arena. It was a great mix of new and old as stories were told and multiple generations of Star Wars were intertwined into a single event.   

Shortly following that J.J. casually asked if we’d like to see a new teaser. The crowd roared and went silent as the Lucasfilm logo appeared on the screen.  With small spurts of excitement the crowd watched the new trailer -- one of the best to ever come out for a Star Wars movie, or film in general. That silence was completely broken when for the first time in 32 years we saw Han Solo and Chewy on the screen. The roar of the crowd was deafening and rivaled any other that I’d heard at a concert or sporting event in my life time. It was an emotional experience and one of the fondest of this universe.

11:05 AM Thursday April 16th
Following the end of the panel I ran to form a line that would enter the show floor itself. To my dismay we were held back from entering the building as a separate line queue had formed for those that didn’t attend the panel or one of the simulcasts that were set up. It was nearly 11:40 before they opened the doors for those that attended the panel. This was a major disappointment for me and all others as it basically meant that all the exclusives for the first day were sold off before many who were in line for 12 hours were even allowed into the building.

This was exasperated by the fact that as we entered the building you could see many exclusives already being re-sold at booths across the show floor. This brings up a frustration for the event itself and one that is hard to address as it’s just the reality of shows in general. Dealer access to the event allows you to see what’s on the show floor prior to the doors ever opening -- even for those that paid for a Jedi Knight ticket. It’s a sad reality that people must deal with as most dealers are also collectors.  In the case of a Celebration, not only do they have access to the show floor and other dealers earlier on the first day, but most spend a good chunk of the day prior to the event visiting other booths and being able to get the jump on a lot of rare pieces. I bring this up as a reality for those that haven’t attended before as it’s something to be prepared for. Even when you know something is going to be there, it might be long gone before the doors ever open. In my case one particular dealer ended up buying 3-4 things that I would have liked to add to my collection the day before... it sucked.   

11:40 AM Thursday April 16th 
The doors finally open and we’re off! In the next 60 minutes I power walked more than a soccer mom would in a full day at the mall. As I rushed to the Gentle Giant booth I was fairly certain that the one exclusive I was most interested in would be gone, and I was right. Time to move on and refocus. I had planned my route through the floor and knew where I wanted to focus my efforts. However, as plans are made they tend to go awry. I quickly found myself distracted by any booth that had something vintage to show. I didn’t want to leave any stone unturned so as I systematically walked down each aisle I found my head was constantly looking, scanning, trying to find something that could be added to the collection. I saw rare Vlix figures, thousands of MOC figures and every vehicle and playset from the original line. It was daunting and also took me back, as the last time I saw this much vintage was when it was still on the shelves as a child. What a feast for the eyes and the mind. During this first pass I tried to plan out my second pass of the floor. As I finished my first pass I didn’t find myself empty handed. I had picked up a loose Droids C-3PO and two carded Jedi figures I needed for my 48 back ROTJ run. That alone was thrilling and if that’s all I left with I would have felt like the show was a success from a collecting perspective.

Rather than head to the Collecting Track which was already in full swing, I decided to do a second pass on the busy show floor. The floor itself was still in full swing. It was hard to move through the aisles quickly, and thus you had to be tactical with how you approached navigating it. On that pass I had some time not to just look quickly but to also to say a quick hello to some of my comrades from the boards who had booths set up -- James Gallo, Jeff Jacobs and Todd Chamberlain just to name a few. During this pass of the floor I really got to see the scale of what was available. One booth had three Vlix figures which just blew my mind, even more so they had $8K and up price tags. I saw proofs at a few, the 2nd line of Ewoks figures at another. What shocked me in general were some of the prices. Some of the less desirable Revenge proofs were priced at nearly a thousand dollars, where many still only go for $500 on eBay even in this "up" market that we are seeing. 12” and Star Wars MOCs were definitely the most common and plentiful of any of the segments of vintage on the floor, and prices were just as high on most of these items as well. There were AFA 80 20/21 backs going for over $2,000 in many cases, a sealed 12” IG-88 was listed at nearly $4,000, and so on.    Thus for anyone going to the event I definitely suggest you prepare yourself for this as you might find that item you’ve been looking to grab for a long time, but it’s really unlikely you’ll find a great deal on it.

One thing that caught me off guard at the event was cash and in short, the prevalent use of it. Back in the day conventions thrived on cash transactions -- it’s just how you paid for things outside of going to a retail store. But in this day and age of smart phones, Paypal and Square, I found it odd that most of the booths were only taking cash as a form of payment. To me personally toting around $5,000 in your pocket isn’t a good idea. There’s risk to it, and although I did hit the ATM hard before the event, I found it difficult to close transactions given this was the standard form of payment. So be forewarned if you’re coming to a Celebration in the future: roll heavy with a fat wad of bills on you and it will make the buying process a lot easier.

12:30 PM Thursday April 16th - Anaheim Convention Center 2nd Floor.
After an exhausting hour and forty minutes of power walking, talking, and buying, I decided to get the lay of the land on the second floor and see how the lines were looking for the collector panels. The Collecting Track took place on the 2nd floor of the building between one large hall with the panel presentations and one smaller room which was the Collectors Lounge. The lounge was set up with a display of the decorated Vader cases that were being auctioned off along with a small display of past Celebration garb and some pictures highlighting a few collectors that had submitted their collections for the event (yours truly included). It was a bit surreal seeing pictures of my collection displayed in the area alongside some heavy hitting collectors, but I was honored to be picked for the showcase.  

The lounge was also home to a small area where other presentations were taking place. All in all it was an area for socializing and taking a break from the craziness of the main show floor. The Collecting Track was packed like years past, with several presentations taking place each day and a myriad of topics being covered through the week. Given the timing of other events and the fact that lines formed early for each of these panels, it was impossible to make it to every one, and getting to even half was tough unto itself. On Thursday I was able to make it to two panels, one on Star Wars Celebration collecting and the other on comic art. Both were well put together as were all of the presentations that I saw that weekend. But lining up for them and attending just these two ate up over half of my time at the show on Friday. It was well worth it, but I would highly recommend figuring out which ones are most important for you to attend prior to the event and truly planning your weekend around these panels as they fill up quickly.

2:20 PM Thursday April 16th
Rounding our the back half of the day I attended the 2nd Collectors panel, and spent the rest of my time on the floor, breaking for 20 minutes to grab some food before I literally passed out. There was a great selection of food at the event provided by 10-15 food trucks that were parked outside. Given the hospitable weather in California. a lot of people hung out in the plaza outside of the Convention Center. It was a great area to get some fresh air and get away from the constant fun that was being had inside.

As the mid-afternoon set in, the floor itself started to open up a bit. It wasn’t people upon people trying to push their way through aisles. It became more casual which was a very welcome change. Now you were able to sit back and really take in the full event itself, experiencing a lot of booths that were overrun during the first part of the day. It was really the first chance to socialize with others, whether they were friends or striking up a conversation with someone who you met in one of the vintage booths. We’re a close-knit community, and being able to strike up a conversation with a fellow collector at a random booth was welcome for someone like me who really enjoys the personal interaction with others.

During this downtime on the floor I really got spend some time looking at the booths of sellers and exhibitors as well. I started to see major things I missed on the first few passes of looking for new acquisitions and started to enjoy the atmosphere. I saw some things first hand that I never thought I would see. Pre-production samples from the ROTJ line, salesmen samples of the unreleased POTF series, the Jedi Knight toy kit which was featured in Stephen Sansweet’s booth, and so many other things I missed earlier in the day as I was walking around with tunnel vision during those first few passes.

As we neared the close of the show I had to pack up and get ready for the night, as the close of the show was far from the end of the day for me.

Thursday April 16th, 6:05 PM.
The first night of Celebration was  a big one unto itself as it was also the night of the Archive Party. Given my compadre Stephen B. Danley was organizing the event, I had volunteered to help out with the set up was assigned to the door for the evening. That’s right, if you didn’t realize it (as most didn’t) I was the guy checking your tickets at the door that night.

Prior to opening the doors and one of my favorite moments of the event in general was the fact that I had never met Stephen and Skye in person. For nearly four years every month I’ve been putting together a blog for the MarketWatch -- an idea I got from hearing them cover the market on the first few editions of the 'Chive Cast. Every month since then I’ve talked with at least one of these guys over email and meeting them in person was truly one of the high points of the weekend. But they weren’t the only people I met that night that I had conversed with for several years. Working the door gave me the opportunity to read everyone’s tickets (which included their names) so I could try and catch people that I knew on the way in, I had a little fun with this at different times, messing with people’s heads and of course introducing myself eventually to most of the great individuals that I had known through the years.

The event itself was well planned and had so many great things to do. The classic Atari game was set up for play, there was a game of "Pin the Tail on Headman," races to see who could assemble C-3PO the quickest, and a costume contest to top it off, with one of the best Hammerhead costumes I’ve ever seen complete with turquoise man-kini. Over the course of the night there was a silent auction held to benefit the No Kill Animal Shelter that was the philanthropy for the night. At the core of the event though was a great family vibe as so many that created the Archive and many who contribute to it today were able to come together, young and old, new and seasoned.  

I’ve always heard how much the relationships matter in the hobby and how many people state that friendships and the memories are the most important part of the hobby for them. To be honest I’ve never felt that way, call me old fashioned but developing “friends” through email just doesn’t feel real to me. I have to meet someone, shake their hand, see there facial expressions to truly make a friendship real. During this weekend I was finally able to make this a reality, and most of this occurred at the Archive Party. I was able to meet so many -- Gus, Duncan Skye, Steve, Ron, Yehuda, Derek Ho, and Trevor just to name a few.

It was also my first time being able to meet Stephen Sansweet, who I truly credit with getting me into the hobby when I was a teenager with the release of his Star Wars price guides. It was great to get to thank him for that and spend some time conversing about the hobby and how it had evolved over the years.   

The Archive Party was a great way to end the first day of the event, but it also made it hard to top with three days left.  

11:45 PM Thursday April 16th
As the party settled down me and several other collectors headed downstairs to the bar to close down the night. Another opportunity to socialize, catch up with old contacts and turn them into friends.

6:07 AM Friday April 16th
With a little bit later of a start time, the 2nd day of Celebration Anaheim started in the same way as the first, with line queues.   After grabbing some Starbucks I headed down to wait in line, today just for 4 hours which seemed like it would be a breeze given I was actually going to be caffeinated today.  Regardless it was still a really long time to be standing in line to get into an event, but I had a goal and early entry to the floor was a key part of achieving that goal.   It was a simple and noble goal, acquire one of the C-3PO Jumbo Gentle Giant figures!   I’m not a collector of this series at all, but at the same time this one exclusive spoke to me more so then any other at the event.   Thus I made a point of acquiring one and invested thought and time into how I would go about it.   I knew where the booth was, I knew how far away I was and all I had to do was, run like crazy down the aisle ways at full speed so I could be  one of the 100 people in line to get the piece….

10:00 AM Friday April 17th
As the doors open the line slowly moved into the convention hall. As I found myself past the entrance I immediately high tailed it at full speed to the Gentle Giant booth. Yes, I made it and there’s only 30 or so people in front of me, I should be set. But no, between exhibitors that were waiting in line before 10:00 and those that were ahead of me in line it was too late. Well there’s two days left, we’ll see what happens.

10:45 AM Friday April 17th - Collectors Lounge.
Friday was a great day in that I was able to do a live podcast with my cohorts Steve and Skye. Although (Brisbane-Brisbane) Mike wasn’t there, he was in spirit. It was the most complete our little family had ever been with myself and Trevor Hoppers both present to talk with the two hosts. Set up in the Collectors Lounge, it was a great little event to be a part of. We had a small crowd of people present and were able to touch-base with some focus collectors in the hobby. Personally, I gave a live update on the sales on the floor. I wasn’t short on words given everything what was available at the show.

2:45 PM Friday April  17th - Collecting Track Panel Room
As we rounded out that part of the day, I had the chance to get in line for the first panel I would get to attend: Star Wars Coins. The panel overall was great, informative, had some humor in it and enough content to stretch the whole hour. There was new information for me, like learning that one of the facilities that made some of the test coins was just down the road from me in Minneapolis. As I walked out with a new Star Tot in hand I headed back to the floor itself to spend some more time taking in the main parts of the show.

4:05 PM Friday PM April 17th
As I strolled through the show floor I finally felt like I could casually take in the event. I was able to get in line to see the Rancho Obi-One exhibit. What a great booth for collectors... as I walked through the line I saw things I never knew existed and things that intrigued me as to why they were never put into production. Steve Sansweet was able to bring some of the most unique items from the Rancho to the event and showcase them in a way that was entertaining for collectors and casual fans as well.

Coming out of the booth I spent more time walking the show floor and getting to interact with the dealers at the different booths. I spent some time with Jeff Jacobs -- someone who isn’t elusive but definitely walks to the beat of his own drum. I had conversed with Jeff via Facebook and Rebelscum extensively over the years. As much as I credit Steven Sansweet with making me a collector, I credit Jeff with inspiring me to take my collection to the next level, both in scope and display; not quite his level, but somewhere in between the newb stage and ultra collector stage. Jeff is a really approachable individual, but he’s also a keen business man, manning his booth with Zach Tann he was making deals left and right and ultimately did a lot of transactions featuring some great standards of the hobby and a few unique pieces he brought with him. About the only downer I discovered during my brief time with Jeff was that he was looking for some of the same mailer pieces I was. Sometimes it’s best just to step back from one part of your focus and let someone else do the dealing. This is probably going to be my approach with catalog mailers in the coming year…

Moving along I ran into James Gallo who had time to talk since his booth wasn’t being overrun with people at the time. The co-author of Coining a Galaxy is a great guy. I had met him in person a week earlier at Megacon in Orlando, and it amazed me how he literally went to three corners of the country in under a week and had a completely different booth of product at each event.   

Outside of Jeff and James, the only other person with a booth that I had ever communicated with electronically was Todd Chamberlain. Todd had a great set up that week and offered up new items each day to keep the booth fresh. By the end of the week he was showcasing a piece I would have liked to pick up but just couldn’t: a sample 48 back ROTJ Walrusman card with Nikto on the front -- very cool and for someone who has everything ROTJ related it would have been a nice addition to the collection. I met a lot of other dealers that day, people that I started to build relationships with, and in general people that have been around in the hobby for a while.

5:35 PM Friday April 17th
As the show started to slow down I was able to catch one more panel: Collecting Ewoks, which surprised me with some of the interesting new information that I gathered, as I really thought there wasn’t much to collecting the 6 figures that were released for the cartoon. But this was more -- much more -- from the original ROTJ Ewok figures to items through the 90s there was some great content covered by Amy Sjoberg and Jarrod Clark.

8:45 PM Friday April 17th
After taking some time to rest up from the long two days it had been already, I decided to stroll down to Starbucks for some go-juice for the pending night of room sales and other general shenanigans. It was at this time I met a red headed fellow smoking cigarettes and asking me who I was. This was my introduction to Steve York [given the standards of the Archive the next two hours will be stricken from this posting]. All I have to say is Steve and I have had a combative relationship through the boards, and his personality in person didn’t disappoint.

10:40 PM Friday April 17th
Even more so than anything I saw in the formal event the one thing that I was most excited about (and nervous) was the Room Sales: the illusive event where several vintage collectors assemble to sell items that they’ve deliberately brought for sale or high end trades. I had heard about this part of the event every year that Celebration occurred stateside. It’s something of legend to those that don’t attend the event itself. Thus I was determined to dedicate a great deal of time to ensuring that I would be able to take the whole thing in.

Although the event didn’t start until 11:00 PM I walked around the planned area repeatedly waiting for sellers to show up to unleash their items for sale. What ensued was truly a social phenomenon unto itself and something unique to Celebration as a whole.

As sellers set up small stations -- some on the floor some on tables, some of the reception counter of the 2nd floor of the Hilton Anaheim -- the air started to buzz. Droves of collectors rushed in to see the bounty that laid before them. $1,000+ deals were made in seconds, with some people jumping table to table throwing out big bucks to pick up big items and just things they needed. People literally swarmed the sellers with some being overwhelmed. After the initial rush, people started to socialize more as a lot of the great deals were swept up in minutes. It was great to see so many unique and one of a kind items around the floor and an incredible part of the overall weekend.

I saw our friend Jeff Jacob pick up what seemed to be a dozen or so Vaders in one quick deal, someone down the road grabbed 15 MOC figures from a stash of over 100, and yours truly picked up 4 ROTJ proofs in one buy from Uncle Gundy himself, Derek Ho. Even though that was a big win for me I wasn’t able to convince Paul Konatske to part with his ROTJ Yoda Cromalin, but we live to fight another day….

It was at this event that I also noticed something odd: Skye was being followed around by cameras. Stephen B. later caught me up on the fact that they were going to be following him around for the weekend as part of a documentary on Star Wars fans. Great for him and great for the hobby, this also made for a little added fun when it came to the rest of the weekend.

As we approached the 2AM mark on what was now Saturday the 18th, people started to pack up and head back up to their rooms in preparation for the next day. So concluded the 2nd day of Celebration VII, the most memorable of the week for me personally, but not the end by a long shot.

Check back for Part II of this piece in the coming weeks as we wrap up coverage of Star Wars Celebration Anaheim.


  1. Awesome read Pete. Wish I'd been there ...

  2. I had no idea that was you working the door until I heard it on the podcast! I probably should have said something since you called me by name. Sorry about that. Great write-up though!

  3. Great getting to meet you Pete AND be on the Chive Cast together. Way cool!